Culture of spin.

Immediately post the Third Test versus Pakistan and all the talk is of the dearth of quality spin bowlers. Or at least in the UK mini-subcontinent it is. Hour upon hour or page upon page of rumination around spin stuff, which in a way… is great. Great that this (arguably) least glamorous facet of the game is in the spotlight.

Whilst inevitably unpicking the issues arising from this (ahem) turn of events, I do wonder if we can turn this moment when both armchair authorities and Cricketing Authorities are acutely engaged… into a positive?

Let’s hear what some influential peeps or tweeps have said. Michael Vaughan has been relentlessly withering on the inconsistencies or raw inadequacies of England’s 3 spinners. Boycott has just described them – slightly absurdly, but as is often the case, we know what he means- as ‘non-existent,’ in a Telegraph article. Robert Croft – from the other angle – has tweeted that

We can’t expect our batsmen 2 be consistent against the turning ball. They never have to face it in this country as no turning pitches!

There’s a comparatively rare consensus around the facts that

a) our spinners (by definition, picked to spin the ball and either take wickets or tie up an end) were ordinary, given the help they received from prevailing conditions and

b) our batsmen were too easily undone by the Pakistani equivalents. There’s a further consensus around the notion that these two phenomena are umbilically linked… to the relative void (as opposed to the fecund womb!) where our spin culture should be.

In attempting to apply my own laser-like intellect to the spin bowling issue only – for now – I’m going to do what any self-respecting bloggerist might do, and reach for a coupla subtitles.

The Individuals.
There’s always context, right? Selection is always about what’s happened before, what’s expected and what impact or contribution a player might make. Remember that.

Moeen Ali.
I was in Cardiff for the Ashes and can confirm that folks were falling for Moeen, rather. He was actually loved, for his smooth, assured batting and his energy round the place. I’m not saying he was Ben Stokes exactly – Mo’s mojo is a whole lot less spikily, edgily brilliant – but he seemed so comfortable in the environment we hoped good things might happen whenever he was involved. Often they did.

That whole Mo batting at eight ruse also worked a treat, felt like a master stroke as he moved stylishly (and critically) to 77 in the first innings. That crowd-lurv, that confidence fed into a decent return from his bowling; in the first innings he winkled out Smith and Clarke and in the second Australian knock he claimed three wickets, including that of Warner. He took a super-sharp caught and bowled (that Clarke wicket) and somehow lifted the crowd with his easy enthusiasm. It may have been the prevalence of Mo masks around the Swalec crowd but something about his quiet presence suggested he may be destined to be the face of the summer.

In fact, whilst Ar Mo certainly contributed to a flawed but uplifting Ashes victory, there was early concern around the quality of his bowling. More than that; it was generally appreciated that the Mo-at-8 thing made sense precisely because he’s not a genuine international spinner… and yet he is more than a mere makeweight. He deserves a slot, he improves the balance of the side and shores up the batting/offers a match-winning threat even, down there. He is – despite the work-in-progress-that-may-not-progress enough-ness of his bowling – a real international.

Mostly, Moeen Ali looks every inch of that but, if you look at his bowling in isolation, he doesn’t.

Samit Patel.
Is viewed as either a proper throwback kindofa cricketer, or a man out of time. Defiantly unsexy, patrolling like some amiable neighbourhood copper dangerously close to the ‘likeably portly’ category. Simply does not have that sprint and dive thing in his locker; in fact looks like he has a ham and chutney bap and a bottle of Sam Smith’s in his locker.

Samit can clearly play – as can the other two spin candidates – but he has been judged to be short of fitness and that true elite-level threat with the ball.

So if Patel is generally and rightly regarded highly and warmly by plenty but few consider him the answer to England’s spin ‘woes’, why was he picked? With all due respect he doesn’t fit the bill as England’s Future. The brutal truth is that he was selected because of injuries around the squad, then geography/’conditions’ and because okaaaaay he mi-ight do a job with bat and ball. This he did. An average job – predictably. It may have been an average selection, given short and longer term considerations.

Rashid…(however…)
is the one.

If Moeen is effectively a batsman who can bowl spin and Patel a goodish alround spin bowler and batsman, Rashid is the one we might look to with the ball.

The fact of his leggie-dom may flesh out the notion he’s a Man More Likely To, in broad terms, than the other two labouring away alongside in Sharjah. He’s different; he’s A Prospect, a threat, a candidate for bona fide spin-king status in a way that Patel and Moeen maybe aren’t – certainly aren’t. Something says he’s more likely to tear through an innings than his compadres… and that he’s young enough to invest in… and we’re entitled to be hopeful and maybe even excited about that.

And yet he proved flawed. As in-out and generally disappointing as Patel and Moeen. As Sir Geoffrey said (of all of them)
they are not accurate or disciplined enough and there are too many easy balls to score off.

Simple but true enough. Rashid, whom we hoped (and still hope?) may bring that X-factor, that extra dimension to the side, underachieved.

General (Brief) Boring Theory thing.
I reckon most of us who have flung the cherry accept that bowling leg-spin is about as difficult as bowling gets: that’s part of its allure. The cocked wrist and the snap or flip of fingers as the ball is delivered from more or less the back of the hand works against easy repetitions.

Leggies tend to really work with their wrists and/or wind up revolutions by (in particular) ripping on the seam with their third finger. It’s (in my view) a whole lot more difficult to do this consistently and with control than it is to (for example) bowl a stock off-spinner, where the clockwise ‘turning the key’ movement of the first finger is a) more easily achieved and b) more easily repeated with the necessary accuracy. At every level it’s rare to find a leggie who is both turning the ball ‘big’ and able to plop it on the right spot time after time after time.

Conclusion thing.
Time to hone your spin-king skills is available, in (UK) domestic cricket – but arguably not enough of it, or not in conducive or even ‘fair’ scenarios.  ‘Special breed’ though they may be, spinners – like everyone else – have to earn the right to play, possibly more so now than in the years when there fewer non-negotiables – when you could be unfit or relatively uni-skilled.

Ideally though things remain unchangingly straightforward; you (the spin-king) just bowl magnificently and/or with monotonous skill; meaning all arguments simply fall away.

#TMS made the point earlier that Tuffers bowled around 800-900 overs a season for Middlesex: this compares to about 300-400 for spinners in the current era. No wonder then, we seem cruelly short of international-grade spinners when the opportunities in domestic cricket are both limited and frequently unrelated to or unhelpful towards producing Test Match bowlers.

Of course the changing nature of the game itself mitigates against the kind of consistency Boycott understandably demands. Especially in Blighty where spinners are used mainly in limited overs games where variation rather than consistency is often the key. Pitches and the surge towards yet more dynamic cricket significantly undermine any spin culture we may have. This is tough; it may even brand us as philistines – myopic no-hopers – but don’t expect too much in the way of revelation or revolution too soon.

The tremendous debate underway during this, the inaugural Spin Awareness Moment is valuable but may not, I fear, amount to much. Changes a-comin’ in the structure of English domestic cricket will not, I suspect, be driven by the need to find a new Graeme Swann – or better still, nurture a spin-friendly environment. More likely we will simply sit and wait for someone extravagantly gifted and stunningly reliable to come along, wheeling in glorious isolation, against the grain.

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